2017 Project of the Year: Green City Force – Farms at NYCHA

Green City Force is creating a new model for urban farming. Supported by The Corps Network’s Opportunity Youth Service Initiative (OYSI), Green City Force AmeriCorps members constructed four farms on New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) properties. Three of these farms were constructed just this past summer.

The Farms at NYCHA program is part of Building Healthy Communities (BHC), a city-wide partnership focused on improving health outcomes in 12 neighborhoods throughout the city. The farms are designed to bring organic produce to food deserts and promote sustainable living in public housing communities. Their presence is intended to encourage residents to engage in local green spaces and start important conversations about food and environmental justice.

Green City Force (GCF) recruits Opportunity Youth from public housing throughout the city to serve on the Farm Crews. These AmeriCorps members are involved in all aspects of farm operation, from construction and planting, to harvesting and volunteer management. Through their service, Corpsmembers develop professional skills and gain training in urban farming, green building practices, nutritious food preparation and ecological literacy. Upon graduation, the Corps aims to maintain an 80 percent job placement rate within six months. GCF’s programming has filtered into the livelihoods of many alumni; former Corpsmembers have continued to work in the sustainability sector and promote the use of local vertical agriculture.

Covering a total of five acres, the NYCHA farms have transformed formerly underutilized areas in low-income communities into lush green spaces that encourage active living and healthy eating. The farms project a spirit of togetherness; fruits and vegetables are distributed to public housing residents in exchange for volunteer time or household compost. Additionally, the spaces are host to weekly Farm Stands and Harvest Festivals, which teach a “Farm Based Learning” curriculum to local school groups. To date, GCF AmeriCorps members have distributed over 7,000 pounds of organic local produce and collected over 2,100 pounds of compost to be processed. The Farm Stands have attracted over 1,300 visitors and over 180 NYCHA residents have volunteered to help maintain the farms.

Farms at NYCHA represents the largest physical intervention on NYCHA property that GCF has ever initiated. Prior projects involved person-to-person outreach in which Corpsmembers educated individual public housing residents about sustainable living practices. The addition of four large-scale farms, each of which is one to two acres, made a huge impact on housing developments that remained unchanged for generations.

Though the Farms at NYCHA were originally met with skepticism, instituting regular distributions and engaging the community in volunteering and decisions about what to grow has made each farm a celebrated part of its community. The farms are proof that something as simple as the food you eat can open impactful discussions surrounding food justice and public health.